The Librarian – an appreciation
If any job has suffered from the cliché-ridden, hackneyed impressions of the general public, the librarian has to be close to the top of the list. Those of us in or around the publishing sector know that this image is out of date and the modern librarian has to deal with a far greater amount of responsibility, liaise with a much broader spectrum of people and departments from the university and are far more of a multi-tasker than they’ve been given credit for.
They are an essential part of the publisher’s sales and marketing activity, but in the past have risked being taken for granted. It is essential for any marketer in academic publishing to generate a better understanding of one of their key markets – not just the central university library in general, but the dedicated and specialist staff that keep it functioning effectively.
Academic/subject librarians are responsible for a far wider range of activities than is given credit for. Not only will they be responsible for specific departments/subject collections, but also database management, online/web development, electronic publishing resources as well as being incredibly customer-focused in terms of advising and liaising with students, academic departments and faculties, other related departments such as IT or purchasing/procurement as well as developing and maintaining relationships with outside partners from outside the institute (wholesalers, suppliers, professional bodies/societies etc). In addition to this, there is also the core issue of managing a budget and spending it on books, journals and electronic resources.
It is this last part that is of most interest to the marketer in publishing. The subject librarian needs to be in dialogue with the academic departments for the areas for which they are responsible. They need to know what is on reading lists, what recommended additional reading across the multitude of courses and modules run out of each department. When a lecturer incorporates a book or journal article in the course of their teaching, it must be available when the conscientious student goes looking for it in the library – or the system breaks down.
How does the modern, specialist librarian (most librarians will be required to have specialist knowledge and/or education in the subject areas they’re responsible for) deal with this dynamic, highly-changeable environment – one that is constantly battling against funding cuts and differing means by which content is delivered and read? What factors are going to influence at the moment and more importantly in the next few years?
A recent study by the OCLC reported that 90% of librarians felt that usage of e-books, e-resources and online content is likely to increase whilst only 38% felt that the ‘physical library’ itself would see usage increase. Whilst currently most academics and students use the library to borrow books and educational materials, this is going to change with more and more people accessing online journals and digital resources. Now almost as many people use the library to access online material as they do to physically borrow a book – could we see a reversal of this, with more people using online resources than book borrowing? It was thought that in the next five years, only 10% of students visiting the library would do so to borrow a book. In this report, 62% of librarians felt that the main priority for the future was e-books/e-collections.
So, what can we make of this? In a library environment that’s as varied as at any point in history and librarians’ time divided between managing their responsibilities in the library itself, sourcing and assessing products, liaising with multiple departments across the university and trying to adapt to the new ways in which information is delivered and consumed, as well as the changing role of the library in university life itself (the OLCL report claimed that the second most common reason a library was used was for meetings/social gatherings), how can a librarian find enough time to look at what’s out there in terms of books, journals, online resources?
The most common method of sourcing information on the library industry and product is through email/listservs, promotional mailings and reviews, followed by discussion with colleagues and websites. Library industry journals and blogs follow in level of importance and relevance with social media such as Facebook and Twitter slow to take off (although it is thought they will increase in popularity).
What does this tell us? The life of a librarian is not what it was a decade ago, possibly not even a year ago. This is a highly challenging and complex job and the publisher must take this into account when considering their promotions to librarians – they are not time-rich and will value accurate, interesting and timely marketing communications in order to inform their decision-making.
Thought you knew about one of your key customers, the pressures they face, their levels of training and specialisation, dedication and responsibilities. Think again.